China is a world of many friendly faces, new tastes and visual feasts. Last spring, freshman and sophomores from Grace Church School began our odyssey by traveling from NYC to Shanghai. In Shanghai, we stopped by Renmin Park, built on the grounds of the former Shanghai Race Club, which was established by the British in 1862. After our fresh-air tour, we traveled to meet our home-away-from-home, Shanghai Southwest Weiyu Middle School, where students met host families, visited classes, played with the kindergarteners and explored Shanghai’s most gorgeous locales, including the Yu Garden Yu Garden was first built in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty by Pan Yunduan as a comfort for his father in his old age. It features a lovely rockery, towers and stone bridges, and a garden with many beautiful gingko and rosewood trees. We also enjoyed a tour of the Shanghai Museum, and saw artifacts from all the major periods of Chinese history, including a fascinating exhibit on coinage and money. Students also enjoyed touring the campus of New York University’s Shanghai campus, a new building located in downtown Shanghai. After a lovely banquet where we said goodbye to our host families and our sister school, we had a great night’s sleep and headed out for more adventure.
Our next stop was Suzhou, where we took a tour of one of China’s oldest silk factories, walked along the banks of the Grand Canal and visited the Garden of the Humble Administrator, a UNSECO World Heritage Site. The garden contains numerous pavilions and bridges set among a maze of connected pools and islands, and the sounds of running water and the lovely shade trees made it a beautiful place to stop, sit and relax. Many of our young photographers got some amazing shots touring this garden, among the most famous in the world. We then took a bus ride to Hangzhou, checked in at our hotel, and the woke early to have a Tai-Chi lesson with a master while looking out at the West Lake, on which we would take a lovely boat tour later that day. While in Hangzhou, we also visited a tea plantation, and after our hike up the mountain, enjoyed sampling some of the plantation’s most famous tea as we refreshed ourselves after our climb.
The next few days at Hangzhou we visited the Flying Peak and the Lingyin Temple in the Wuling Mountains, one of the earliest and largest Buddhist temples in China, founded in 328 AD. Students visited shrines and explored grottos and caves as we enjoyed the warm weather.
The next morning we were on a plane for a short flight to Beijing. We started our visit to the city with Hutong Historical Walking Tour. Beijing's hutongs—the narrow alleyways that crisscross the city—gave us a dual perspective of both life inside the old city and how modern Beijing citizens blend the old with the new. Highlights included imperial shoemakers, picklers, and ‘creative districts’ (areas where citizens were encouraged to produce creative works). We headed over to Tiananmen Square to see some of China’s most iconic spaces. After a night out with one of many delicious dinners, the following morning brought us to the Forbidden City, where we had a scavenger hunt around one of the world’s most enchanting spaces. After all that walking, we were glad to sit and be amazed at a Chinese Acrobatic Show, which kept us on the edge of our seats for hours. The next morning, we headed to the Great Wall. Spared from walking up its steep slope by a ride on a funicular, we hiked along the top of the wall to breathtaking views, and then held our breath again as we rode down the wall’s slope on one of the special slides available. What a rush!
After the Great Wall, we took a bus ride to the Beijing Olympic Park, where we saw the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Water Cube, featured in the 2008 Summer Olympic games. While our trip was almost over, we had time for two more important things: pandas and shopping! We stopped by the Beijing Zoo to see the panda garden and the enormous Pearl River Shopping Center for last minute souvenirs. Wanting to fit in every bit of China we could, we stopped by the Art Gallery District on the way to the airport before heading home. What a trip!